Feb 28, 2024 - News

Thawing COVID-era loneliness with friendships forged in routine errands

A selfie of Erin and Noni at the drive-thru window of a Carl's Junior

Erin and Noni at Carl's Jr. in Salt Lake City. Photo: Erin Alberty/Axios

After COVID plunged us into hermit life four years ago, a lot of us found our most reliable in-person contact with essential workers — people in public-facing roles at stores, drive-thrus and other services.

Why it matters: As an extrovert, I've found far more meaning in those once-routine interactions — my "errand buddies," the familiar faces I encounter in tasks that I never would have described as particularly social before 2020.

Zoom in: One unexpected source of friendship has been the Carl's Jr. on 300 West, where I get breakfast a few times a week — and where Noni at the drive-thru window recognizes my voice as soon as I start saying "steak and egg burrito."

  • One day in 2022, my husband picked up my order because I had to euthanize my cat that morning. It brightened a truly awful day when he told me the whole kitchen staff popped into the window to say hi to him when he mentioned we were married.

Pass it on: Noni, in turn, told me she's always happy to see her accountants at H&R Block, where she's a regular as tax season approaches each year.

  • "They're just so friendly," she said.
  • She said she's also become closer to her fellow volunteers with Utah Community Action — a nonprofit that had its hands full during the pandemic.
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